Many consumers pursue wellness through high-quality food experiences, according to The Hartman Group Inc., Bellevue, WA. “Fresh, real and clean form the basis for the evaluation of the quality and healthfulness of food,” said Laurie Demeritt, the group’s CEO. “Describing foods in this way enables consumers to focus more on what’s ‘good’ and less on self-discipline.”

According to the research firm’s Health + Wellness Deep Dive report, 60% of the 1,700-plus consumers surveyed said it is important that foods be made with recognizable ingredients. Fifty-seven percent said that “made with simple, real ingredients” is important. 

Real, simple, minimally processed — these are all ­attributes that consumers increasingly seek in the packaged foods they purchase at the supermarket including baked goods. With the perception of being fresh-from-the-farm, many dairy ingredients such as milk, butter and cheese, as well as eggs, complement this movement. Specialty ingredients such as whey, lactose and egg products are also being used increasingly by bakers to make ingredient statements more appealing to discriminating consumers. 

For example, the primary display panel on boxes of the new Aunt Jemima Lil’ Griddles line from Pinnacle Foods Group, Parsippany, NJ, includes the phrase “Made with Real Eggs & Milk.” These bite-sized frozen breakfast foods are designed for children, and the use of simple ingredients appeals to parents looking for only the best for them.

“We take great pride in making Aunt Jemima frozen pancakes, waffles and French toast just like moms make breakfast across America,” said Lisa Barrette, senior ­director of marketing at Pinnacle.

Cookie marketers such as Best Maid Cookie Co., Mound, MN, are taking the same steps. “Our customers were asking for all-natural, zero trans-fatty-acid products, so we decided to go back to the basics and bake with butter,” said John Verkennes, national sales manager. “We now offer a premium, clean-label line of pre-portioned gourmet cookie dough under the Rich & Sinful 100% Butter Cookie Dough brand.”

Crack that egg

Eggs and egg products, which are the convenient, ­industrial forms of the same eggs one cracks, provide both nutrition and functionality to formulations. At the same time, they contribute to a positive, consumer-friendly ­ingredient statement when they appear on product labels.

“Eggs are best known for providing structure to baked grain-based foods in terms of height, volume and ­stability,” said Elisa Maloberti, director of egg product marketing, American Egg Board, Park Ridge, IL. “But they also can contribute color and richness while helping to prevent staling. And they provide a wide variety of nutrients, including high-quality protein, trans-fatty-acid-free mono- and polyunsaturated fats, vitamins, minerals and other highly bioavailable nutrients with recognized health and wellness benefits.”

Understanding these functions and identifying their importance in baked goods can help a baker choose the most appropriate egg products for an application. Egg products are available whole or separated into yolks or whites only, with or without additional performance ingredients. They also come in refrigerated liquid, frozen and dried form. 

On a solids basis, whole eggs are about 50% protein and 40% fat. Whites are almost all protein, whereas yolks are about half fat and one-third protein. “With more than 40 different egg proteins in a whole egg — some unique to the white and others unique to the yolk — there are variations in how whole eggs, whites and yolks function in baked goods,” Ms. Maloberti explained.

Egg proteins help trap air to form food foams. “This creates volume and produces a baked good with desirable texture, mouthfeel and ­appearance,” Ms. Maloberti said. These attributes can vary based on egg product type and application.

Gluten-free foods get a big boost from egg proteins. Scientists at Kansas State University discovered that egg’s high-quality complete proteins have the ability to bind water as well as entrap air, thus assisting with development of gluten-free baked goods. “When used with gluten-free flours, egg products help simulate the wheat flour ­experience,” Ms. Maloberti said.

The fat in eggs, found only in the yolk, has some unique abilities, too. The yolk is a concentrated source of lecithin, an all-natural emulsifier that can slow staling. Referred to as retrogradation, this irreversible process liberates water in baked goods, causing starch chains to collapse. This produces a firm texture and dry mouthfeel, eventually rendering the baked item inedible.

“Emulsifiers, which are molecules that have one end that dissolves in water and one end that dissolves in oil, are thought to interfere with the collapse of the swollen starch molecules by lodging in the spaces between the highly branched starch chains, thus preventing their collapse,” Ms. Maloberti said. “This retards the onset and rate of firming that occurs with age. So, by ­including egg yolks in a baked food formulation, chemical emulsifiers can be eliminated, contributing to a cleaner ingredient statement.”

Bakers have long been familiar with the properties of egg wash, made by slightly beating liquid egg, either whole or yolks only. Used to coat or glaze baked foods, egg wash helps prevent the crust from drying out and becoming tough. “It also gives the baked product a finished, slightly glossy look,” Ms. Maloberti said. “Just prior to baking, the egg mixture is brushed on the surface of the unbaked good. The egg mixture can also be applied about 15 minutes before the end of baking to prevent over-browning.”

Yolks must be present in the glaze to seal in moisture. “Whites actually have an opposite effect,” she said. “As proteins coagulate on the surface, they draw moisture from the product, which eventually evaporates, resulting in a dry, crispy surface.”

The natural aspects of eggs and egg products appeal to consumers. “Egg functionality is complemented by the fact that egg products are all-natural and help maintain a clean label,” explained Research Chef Walter Zuromski, owner and president of Chef Services Group, Lincoln, RI. “Consumers desire foods with recognizable ingredients on the label and respond well to ingredients that they can find in their own kitchen.”

Innovative dairy options

Egg ingredients help create positive on-package messages with their higher protein content and zero trans fat content. Chef Zuromsky said, “With front-of-pack labeling, manufacturers have just a brief chance to promote their concept and message amidst heavy ­competition from other manufacturers who have reformulated to create a better-for-you version of a new or existing product.”

Besides the basic dairy staples of milk, butter and cheese, numerous innovative dairy ingredients have become the baker’s best friends. “Dairy ingredients provide multiple benefits in bakery applications,” said Sharon Gerdes, senior account manager for the US Dairy Export Council (USDEC), Arlington, VA. “This includes browning, emulsification, foaming, moisture retention and protein fortification. Choosing the optimal dairy ingredient for a specific application requires a good understanding of the composition and functionality of each specific ingredient.”

For example, sweet whey is a byproduct of the manufacture of cheeses such as cheddar and Swiss. “Bakers learned to appreciate sweet whey as an economical replacement for some of the sugar in recipes as well as a source of tenderizing proteins,” Ms. Gerdes said. “Unfortunately, once cheesemakers learned that they could process sweet whey into higher-value whey protein ingredients such as whey protein concentrate (WPC) and whey protein isolate (WPI), supply became scarce.” Many bakers are now turning to a rather new ingredient in the market: permeate.

Also called dairy product solids, deproteinized whey or modified whey, permeate is a co-product of the production of WPC, WPI, ultrafiltered milk, milk protein concentrate or milk protein isolate. Permeate encompasses a family of products that have a minimum of 59% lactose and a maximum of 10% protein and 27% ash. Sweet whey and milk are the most common starting materials for permeate production in the US.

“The composition of permeate will vary somewhat depending on the starting material,” said Kimberlee Burrington, the dairy ingredient applications coordinator at the Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, which is supported in part by USDEC.

“The lactose in permeate helps baked bread retain its softness for a longer period of time and also helps extend its shelf life,” Ms. Burrington said. “This softness has been attributed to better emulsification of the fat in the formula and the increase in water-holding capacity.”

Emulsifying benefits extend to other types of baked foods. “Added to pie crusts, permeate can aid in emulsifying the shortening,” she noted. “This allows a reduction in shortening without sacrificing the tender, flaky texture. Permeate also improves the color and flavor of the baked crust.”

Permeate can assist with sodium reduction in baked foods. Research shows that permeate helps achieve salty flavor characteristics while displacing salt to keep sodium content down. Permeate also contributes to browning by the Maillard reaction, a process that not only enhances appearance but also imparts a pleasant caramelized flavor.

Dairy protein ingredients can be used in a variety of baked goods to improve their nutritional profile. Ms. Burrington described a protein-enhanced soft pretzel made with WPC, milk permeate and unsalted butter that USDEC’s global marketing program sampled at this year’s Institute of Food Technologists’ Annual Meeting and Food Expo. “The pretzel is a good source of protein (8 g) and has a 73% reduction in sodium when compared with a traditional pretzel,” she noted.

A growing trend favors use of higher-end whey proteins in baked goods because they provide ­functionality along with protein enrichment. They act in a fashion similar to egg proteins in many baked foods.

“Gluten-free bakery products continue to boom, but many have low levels of total protein and lower-quality protein,” Ms. Gerdes said. “Dairy proteins not only boost protein quality but also mimic the structure and gas-entrapping properties of gluten and can be used in a variety of gluten-free bakery products.”

Dairy proteins can be incorporated into formulas through the addition of a traditional dairy food product such as the very on-trend Greek yogurt. “I have modified many recipes to be lower in fat through a strategic swapping of some or all of the fat with low-fat Greek ­yogurt,” said Dennis Littley, an executive chef and culinary instructor located in Collingswood, PA. “This substitution works especially well in muffins.”

Ray Sierengowski, corporate research chef for Meijer, Grand Rapids, MI, agreed. “The best yogurt to use to lower the fat and maintain moisture in baked goods is Greek yogurt. It is especially high in proteins that bind moisture. If you use conventional yogurt, which is lower in protein, I recommend that the liquid ingredients be decreased slightly to compensate for the water content of the yogurt. In an industrial manufacturing setting, ­simply use a concentrated dairy protein ingredient, such as whey protein concentrate.”

As an added bonus, the baker can flag the inclusion of Greek yogurt on product labels to create a point of ­differentiation in the crowded bakery aisle.

Fresh, real and clean, that’s what you get with dairy and egg ingredients.